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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2453

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (09:53): by leave—I rise to speak as the Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communication. The bills that we are currently debating in the parliament today, the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2012 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2012, are the bills that the committee inquired on. They envisage a Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. I want to make it clear that, from the perspective of me and my colleagues, the committee's report is both a fair and accurate record of the evidence that was received in submissions during the public hearings. That is not in dispute.

The object of these bills is the promotion of safety and fairness in the road transport industry by the establishment of a Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal that will set pay and contract rates in the road transport industry by issuing road safety remuneration orders. These RSROs may contain minimum remuneration and employment conditions in addition to those contained in the awards. The RSROs may also address industry practices such as loading and unloading, waiting times, working hours, load limits, payment methods and periods. The tribunal will also be able to make orders to reduce and remove remuneration related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices. It will also be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, hirers and employers, so it does have wide jurisdictional power.

As I said before, the coalition members of the committee understand and appreciate the intention of the bills. We support those matters relating to the safety and welfare of drivers. In fact, I have made this one of my focuses in my time in parliament. However, we believe that the measures contained in the bills, and especially those measures built around remuneration, will not have a significant impact on improving the safety of truck drivers and other road users. We could not see the evidence for a causal link between the level of remuneration and the actual delivery of safety.

We would support improvements to road infrastructure, the enforcement of existing laws and better regulations as first steps towards improving safety. They were repeatedly raised by witnesses. We believe that if complex rules and cross-jurisdictional overlap were removed then the efficiency of the industry would be improved. And that would not burden operators or drivers. We feel that the evidence points to ongoing fatigue and extended waiting times, first at loading points and later at distribution centres, supermarket bays and the like. These matters were raised over a decade ago in the then committee's report Beyond the midnight oil. Clearly, the focus over time has been deficient. That is where the coalition members of the committee disagree with our government colleagues.

Coalition members understand and appreciate what the government is trying to achieve. But it needs to be noted that there has been a gradual improvement in truck accident and fatality rates over recent years, despite the increase in the national freight task. In other words, there are more trucks but fewer accidents. It also seems worthy of note that only 31 per cent of the accidents involving heavy transport come down to the driver, so the deficiencies are not all with the driver but also very much with other people who are on the roads.

Another issue of some concern to the coalition members was what was referred to as jurisdictional creep. These bills could invade other parts of the transport industry. It has already been suggested that intrastate courier drivers should be brought under this legislation. That would start to take the focus off the original intention of the bills, which was to improve the safety of truck drivers on the highways.

Members of the coalition support the spirit of what the government is trying to undertake. We made this clear in our dissenting report. But we feel that it can be achieved in other ways. We could not find, on one hand, a causal link between remuneration and increased safety on the other. In fact, some experts who appeared before the committee said that, for the cowboys in the industry, more money might make them even more bolshie—so to speak—and see them going out after more money. That might not necessarily improve safety. There are forms of stress other than their pay packet that worry drivers. So, given these concerns, coalition members support further efforts to improve occupational health and safety, better logistics at the point of loading and unloading and fatigue management measures but we reject the final recommendation, which is summarised at item 2.35 of the report. On that basis we cannot support it.